When Abe Lodwick signed with the Cougars back in 2006 as a two-star small forward out of Mountain View High School in Bend, Ore., I'm not sure anyone used the words "future pro" in conjunction with his commitment. He looked like one of those "going pro in something other than sports" guys the NCAA loves to talk about.
Nearly eight years later, Lodwick is wrapping up his second season as a professional basketball player in Europe.
Lodwick's development was a sight to behold for all of us, as he grew from a guy who redshirted, barely played as a freshman, and shot 32 percent from three as a sophomore and junior into a man who hit 46 percent of his threes as a senior while becoming one of the team's leaders and most dependable players.
He parlayed that into a tryout with Phoenix Hagen in Germany last season, playing well enough to remain on the squad for the entire year before moving on to the Oberwart Gunners in Austria this season, which recently ended with a playoff series loss to the Gussing Knights. He averaged 11.6 points and 7.1 rebounds in nearly 27 minutes a game while shooting 41 percent from three.
We caught up with Abe via Skype last week. But before we get to the transcription of our conversation, you actually can help Lodwick out with something. (If you're so inclined.)
Lodwick is participating in The Basketball Tournament in June, which essentially is a 32-team, open-invite tournament in Philadelphia where the winning team takes home $500,000 and everyone else walks away with nothing. It's a potentially nice little payday for Lodwick, who stands to make $52,000 if his team wins.
Zach Lowe at Grantland did a cool story on the whole endeavor a couple of months ago, but all you really need to know for Lodwick is this: The only way a team is guaranteed to get into the field is to be in the top 24 in registered fans. The Philly Patriots are well on their way to getting in the tournament, as they currently have the second most fans, but you still can register between now and 9 a.m. PDT on May 1 to try and help Lodwick (and his teammates) out. You also have a shot at winning some prizes for yourself.
With that out of the way, here's our (lightly edited) conversation with Abe.
CougCenter: I think a lot of people imagine playing a sport for a living and how awesome that would be. Is it everything you thought it would be? Is it less? Is it more?
Lodwick: It's less in a lot of ways, it's more in a lot of ways. It's definitely rewarding. Which is cool -- for me to be able to say I get paid money to play basketball is really cool. Not a lot of people can say that. I'm a professional at what I do, and I take a lot pride in that, so that aspect of it is is great. But at the same time, going from college life to playing overseas and you're on your own for 9 months out of the year, it's tough. That's a tough transition for anybody. Myself, a lot of other people that I've talked to that I either played with in college or met over here, everyone goes through adjustments. The experiences are mixed -- a lot of guys love it, a lot of guys hate it, most people are kind of just right in the middle.
Is that kind of about where you're at, in the middle?
I'm mixed, too. There are parts that I love -- you know, in the games, you win games, big wins, playoff wins, playing well ... obviously all that stuff is great. When you have times where you're not playing as well or you might be experiencing some injuries or stuff like that, you're just a lot more aware of being far from home and all that. But that's what makes it worthwhile. Anything worthwhile, anything worth experiencing, you have to kind of have to push the hard times and you'll experience the good times on the end.
On the court it seems like you had a really nice stretch earlier in the year where you had three 20-point games, but it looks like your minutes have gone down a little bit. How has the year gone for you from a basketball perspective?
I definitely started out strong and had a good middle of the season, as well. We're on our third coach of the year ...
So that's kind of an adjustment. When we transitioned from our first coach to our second coach I tore two ligaments in my ankle. And so the last month and half, I think it's been five or six games, just coming back from that, it's tough. I'd be lying if I didn't say it was a big challenge coming back from that. So I think that's definitely affected some stuff. I'm doing my best to finish strong, but at the same time, everything happens for a reason. I'm just making the most of it and trying to push through.
It's funny that you mention that you've had three coaches. I know from people that I've talked to who have had the "European basketball experience," I know the range of experiences is quite large in terms of what it's actually like. Is that the craziest thing that's happened to you since you started this whole journey?
I mean, one thing that's cool about playing overseas is you get a lot of crazy stories -- just crazy stuff happens. But yeah -- I never would have thought I'd have three coaches in one year. So that's definitely tough. There's a lot of crazy stories that are funny, a lot of crazy stories that are really frustrating -- I mean, a lot of times, you're being coached or instructed by somebody who English is their third language. So trying to figure out what they want you to do can be tough. You do your best to try and make the most of that situation. Like I said, it's really just up to how the person adjusts to it. It's never going to be a perfect situation.
The transition the first couple of years ... I mean, I haven't played for 10 years, but I can imagine these first couple of years are going to be some of the harder years, because it's a transition for sure. But it's not like college, where you get to choose where you go and you base that decision a lot off the coach. You basically just go where they're going to pay you a good amount of money and you go there and hopefully things work out. Maybe they do, maybe they don't. A lot of guys bounce around; I've been fortunate where I can be with the same team for the whole year for two straight years.
Have you had any "American in a strange foreign land" experiences off the court?
It's sucks being a tall kind of normal looking white guy over here, because everyone assumes I'm Austrian, or last year in Germany everyone assumed I was German. So people come up to me all the time and they're just talking to me in German and I have no idea what they're saying. A lot of times, I can kind of pick up what they're trying to tell me, but usually ... that's definitely annoying. Other than that, you just pick up on little things.
One thing I realized, is when there are other people you know from the same country, it's always good to go and try to see them, because they're probably experiencing the same things -- people are just out on their own. It's good to meet up with other fellow basketball friends, or just other people playing sports, or people from school, finding them is a good thing too. Those are the biggest things.
So what kinds of things do you do in your spare time to fill the time between basketball?
Different than college, of course, because I don't have classes. A lot of the time, I feel like my brain is just going to mush. So I try to read a lot, I try to do little things that aren't just playing video games or just watching TV shows, although I do plenty of that, too. Part of the reason I'm playing overseas is for the experience. It's not like "NBA or bust" for me. Being overseas is cool. So I want to take advantage of that. I've been able to see a lot of cool cities like Berlin and Munich, and I've been able to go to countries I never thought I'd be able to go to like Hungary or Poland. That kind of stuff is enriching. I put a lot of value in that and do that when I can. Plus you meet a lot of cool people.
What sorts of things do you miss -- what kinds of things are you looking forward to, coming back to the states?
Oh, it'll just be good being home and being able to be around people who speak your language. I'm a relational kind of person, so it's cool just to be around people and be able to talk to whoever you want to talk to. You know over here, you kind of feel isolated because you think, "Ah, I don't want to say something stupid." You kind of avoid that sometimes because you don't know how to communicate with people as well, which can be frustrating. Just seeing people, seeing friends, seeing family, it's going to be fun just having a break. At the end of the season, it's always good being in the playoffs, but that mental break at the end of the season is always important, too, to just kind of refresh and get ready for the next year.
One thing I know you're doing during the offseason is The Basketball Tournament. It looks to me like you got connected with that through your teammate -- talk a little about how you got involved with that whole thing.
So, Sammy Zeglinski is the point guard on the team that I'm on right now, and he played for the University of Virginia for Tony (Bennett). So, obviously that was a built in friendship right there just because we shared the same coach at certain points in our careers. They asked me if I wanted to play with them. It's an opportunity -- you know, it's $500,000 if we win, and each player gets a certain cut. So, sure! You know, I was looking at some teams, there are a lot of really good players, some really good teams. The guys that are on the team are really good, Sean Singletary is on the squad, Sammy of course -- it's pretty much all Virginia guys and then myself. I just thought it would be fun to do.
I'm sure you've somewhat followed things in Pullman from afar. Obviously, Ken Bone lost his job -- he's a guy you played under for three years, and he was the coach when you developed from a guy who wasn't playing into a guy who was pretty important at the end. What were your feelings when you heard the news?
I think any coach that gets into the coaching business knows that it's a business, and when things don't go as planned, the ugly side of the business rears its head. It's always unfortunate to see a coach go. He was a good guy who did stuff by the book. A lot of people have said it -- there's not much else you can say about how great of a guy he is. I think he'll have another opportunity to coach, and he'll do well. But I'm also excited for coach (Ernie) Kent to come in and I really want Washington State to be a team in the future that gets better and better and a program that proves it can be consistent. I certainly hope coach Kent is the guy for the job. I know him from the past, when he was coaching at Oregon, so I've met him before and talked to him before. He's definitely a charismatic guy, so I'm excited to see where that goes.
Thoughts on the shift in style he's going to bring?
You know, I don't know a whole lot about coach Kent's Xs and Os, to be honest. I'm sure it'll be more uptempo. People talk about recruiting at Washington State and this and that, but you know I think, when it comes down to it, whatever you have, you've got to put that product on the court. Tony didn't have the greatest recruits, but he developed them. So I think whatever players you get, you've got to develop them.
What's your favorite memory from the time you played at Wazzu?
Man, there are some really good ones. I remember beating up on Gonzaga at home (in 2010) -- we just killed them -- and it was just a really good feeling. It was just such a solid victory. Some of the biggest wins were my first year there when Tony was there. We won at UCLA, we won at Gonzaga -- just going on that Sweet 16 run was really fun. My role was very small, but just to be a part of that was a lot of fun. As a player? In that year when we had DeAngelo (Casto), Klay (Thompson), Reggie (Moore), Marcus (Capers), myself, Charlie Enquist -- you know we had a bunch of good guys -- Faisel (Aden), Brock (Motum). I mean, that was a really fun team to be a part of. There was something there that was a lot of fun. We had a lot of good games, too.
I think probably number one though was Taylor hitting that shot against Arizona State. That's gotta be number one for me.
For me, I think of when Brock got hurt in the CBI, and then you went nuts. And we were all like, "Wait a minute, where is this coming from?"
That's a personal one -- I'm thinking more in terms of team, but yeah, that was a lot of fun. That was at the very end of my career, and Brock's my boy -- he's playing in Italy right now, we talk almost everyday. We kind of laugh sometimes. He went down, it was at the very end of the season, and then I just started playing really well. It's just funny. My friends and family kid me about that a lot. I don't know what it was -- I don't know if it was just having a bigger role, or playing free, but that was a really fun time in my basketball career.
I just remember thinking, man, you started putting the ball on the floor. We were like, we haven't seen that!
I think I just stopped caring. For me, the less I think, the better I am. So I think I stopped caring and was just like, well you know what, I'm a senior. I wish I would've thought like that earlier, or wish I would've had a bigger role earlier, whatever, but you know, there's a lot to be said for just being confident and having confidence in yourself and I had that at that time, so that was fun.
Watching you develop from someone who got pretty limited opportunities and struggled to hit shots in those opportunities, into someone who was highly reliable by the end of his senior year was actually really cool. And I think that something that Cougar fans, you know, we really embrace that idea that we might not get top-flight recruits, but we can get kids who want to work hard and want to develop, and it seems like that has to be the ethos of pretty much any WSU basketball team.
Absolutely. I think that's true in almost any WSU sport. I like that though -- I like that mentality, because it's really rewarding when you win. When you put in the work and you develop players and you develop as a coach, too, you look at players who got better there and the program improves -- it's fun to win that way. It takes time, you've got to be patient, but it's a really rewarding style.
You mentioned one of your favorite memories is beating Gonzaga in Pullman. I don't know if you heard, but they're going to be playing next year's game in Spokane Arena. A guy like DaVonte Lacy is going to get to play Gonzaga once in Pullman. How do you feel about that?
I'm a former player, so -- I wouldn't want to play a home game in Spokane.* That's just me being frank. As a player, you really value rivalry games, especially when you get those rivalries at home. And Gonzaga is, if not the biggest rivalry on the schedule, one of the biggest, them and UW. There are a lot of ins and outs that I don't know about, so I'm not going to act like I know everything about the whole situation, but as my very limited view goes, as a player, I want to play in Beasley as much as possible. But there's a lot of stuff outside of my control that I don't see.
Last thing and I'll let you go. What's next for you?
We'll see how the summer goes. There are a couple of options kicking around, hopefully stuff will materialize more as the summer goes on. Options are always good. We'll see how this tournament goes and enjoy the summer. The last two years I haven't signed with teams until later in the summer. Most guys don't. They don't feel too much pressure, so I'm just going to enjoy some time off and see where it goes.
*This interview was conducted when we thought it was still a WSU home game up there ...